Brands Can Put The Human Back In Humanitarian

The humanitarian sector needs to shift its reputation from being about big, centralised organisations that come in and save the day to local, knowledgeable, networked individuals solving their own problems.

Because on some level, everyone will need to be a humanitarian in the future.

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The World Humanitarian Summit is happening now in Istanbul. This two day event presents a chance for organisations and institutions to make commitments in support of the UN Secretary General’s Agenda for Humanity.

While organisations and institutions have been the focus, it takes the commitment of individuals — human beings — to make the change that is being called for. Despite this, the message of many large NGO brands is still ‘support us and we will save the day’. This message may work for fundraising for the time being, but change is necessary. Everyone will need to come together to share knowledge and good practice. Large organisations will need to partner with small ones, governments will need to work closely with corporations, and NGOs will need to rely more on local organisations and communities and the people that populate them.

It’s not necessarily surprising news, but grass-roots is the future.

Why? Because the number of disasters caused by climate change will continue to increase year after year, and their reach will continue to widen. This, along with shrinking budgets, explosive populations and political strife will make the traditional way of delivering humanitarian relief unsustainable.

H is for Humanitarian. H is for Human.

Over the last few years, we have had the honour of working alongside the team at the Humanitarian Leadership Academy to help them develop their brand. Their mission is to recognise the skills of individuals in the most disaster-prone areas of the world and give them a platform to connect with others and share their knowledge. Their brand will help them communicate efficiently and effectively, as well as building awareness.

We built the brand for Humanitarian Leadership Academy around a simple idea — ‘Ready Together’. This describes an optimistic goal for the future: a point when the next generation of humanitarians will be enabled to respond to disasters in their own countries.

To describe this visually, we thought about the existing iconic symbols in the sector, many of which have authority but have come to stand for ‘we are here to save you’ and ‘we know best’. We felt it was time to break this mould. With a bold simplicity, we created a symbol out of a sans serif lowercase ‘H’ to stand firstly for Human, as individuals, ‘we are just like you’ and hopefully inviting: ‘what can you contribute?’. We were also inspired by the word humble, another welcome contrast to existing brands in the sector.

Illustration by Robert Hanson / Idea is Everything for the Humanitarian Leadership Academy

Newly branded and launching officially at the World Humanitarian Summit, the Academy exists to change the sector, sending a clear signal that change is needed. Further, it’s not trying to throw away all of the incredible work that has been done in the sector, it’s trying to build a bridge between what exists and what is needed — the knowledge of all of the individuals and organisations who currently don’t have a voice or way to contribute.

What’s next?

To stay relevant for the future, the humanitarian sector needs to shift its focus from big organisations to people. Brands can help bring about this change by shifting the spotlight from ‘the power of the organisation’ to ‘the potential of the individual’.

As a representative of the branding industry who has the ability to introduce positive change, my humble commitment to the Agenda for Humanity will be to always remember who we’re working for: human beings

I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do together.